Mars Science Laboratory

Article

August 14, 2022

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, in French "Mars Science Laboratory") is an exploration mission to the planet Mars using a rover developed by the JPL center associated with NASA, the space agency American. The space probe was launched on November 26, 2011 by an Atlas V launch vehicle. The landing site, on which the space probe landed on August 6, 2012, is located in the Gale crater. Within a restricted perimeter, therefore compatible with the autonomy of the rover, this presents formations reflecting the main geological periods of the planet, including that - the Noachian - which could have allowed the appearance of living organisms. During its mission, the rover, named Curiosity, will research whether an environment favorable to the appearance of life existed, analyze the mineralogical composition, study the geology of the explored area and collect data on meteorology and radiation that reaches the ground of the planet. The duration of the mission is initially set at one Martian year, or about 669 sols (Martian solar days) or 687 Earth (solar) days. The Curiosity rover is five times heavier than its predecessors, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), which allows it to carry 75 kg of scientific equipment, including two mini-laboratories for analyzing organic and mineral components as well as a remote identification system of the composition of rocks based on the action of a laser. The on-board laboratories are fed by a sophisticated sample collection and conditioning system comprising a drill. To meet the increased energy needs and overcome the constraints of the Martian winter and night periods, the rover uses a radioisotope thermoelectric generator which replaces the solar panels used by previous missions. Finally, he benefits from advanced software to navigate the Martian soil and perform the complex tasks that await him. The rover is designed to travel 20 km and can climb slopes of 45°. The space probe departing from Earth has a mass of 3.9 tons and includes a cruise stage responsible for bringing the probe to the vicinity of the planet Mars, a re-entry vehicle which ensures the crossing of the Martian atmosphere at high speed and a descent stage responsible for the last phase culminating in landing. To successfully land the 899 kg rover on Martian soil with the precision required by scientific objectives, the landing technique used by its predecessors has been profoundly modified: the atmospheric re-entry phase is partly controlled to restrict the landing zone. landing at an ellipse 20 km long and 7 km wide. The rover is gently deposited on the ground by a descent stage operating like a helicopter-crane, the only method compatible with its mass. MSL is NASA's most ambitious interplanetary mission of the decade. The complexity of the probe and the rover as well as the need to develop new space technologies led to significant modifications of the initial concept during development: the resulting cost overruns almost led to the cancellation of the entire project. The launch initially planned for 2009 had to be postponed to the next launch window, 26 months later, in 2011. The total cost of the project is estimated in 2011 at 2.5 billion dollars.

Background

Mars, a privileged destination for space exploration

Since the beginning of space exploration, the planet Mars has been the favorite target of interplanetary missions launched into the Solar System. Unlike other planets in the Solar System, Mars has undoubtedly experienced